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The Freedom to Be an Adult

Why do liberals insist that the freedom enjoyed by a child is superior to that treasured by adults?

by
Frank J. Fleming

Bio

March 2, 2010 - 12:00 am

There’s a lot of freedom that comes with being a child. Food, shelter — all the important day-to-day stuff — is handled for you. You are left to do as you please throughout most of the day, and while there are a few things you are forced to do, such as go to school and eat your vegetables, these are inarguably for your betterment. There are few real worries when the necessities of survival are guaranteed by your parents, who allow you to be content and carefree. In a way, that’s true freedom.

Being an adult is quite different. Food and shelter are your own responsibilities, and bills need to be paid or you end up starving and on the street. Though left to make your own choices, you can easily make foolish ones, and no one is there to stop you from making them. Your whole life is now in your own hands, and if you tried living as carefree as a child, your house and your job and everything you own would soon be gone. In a way, it’s an oppressive existence.

Of course, seen from another angle, childhood is a rather frightening existence. People get to order you around, and who really knows how qualified they are to make decisions for you? And if they do make poor decisions or fail you, you have no recourse, since you’re just a child. You are stuck in whatever horrible situation others decide  for you. It can be the worst kind of tyranny. As an adult, you always have other options. You can make your own decisions, and if something doesn’t work out, you can try something else. Your options are unlimited, and no other person can hold you down and tell you what to do. That would seem to be real freedom.

I think it’s safe to say that in America, everyone loves freedom. Liberals, conservatives — we all love freedom. We just often have different ideas about what that is. Liberals, for the most part, favor the child concept of freedom, and conservatives lean more towards the adult concept of freedom — and each looks on the other’s ideas as scary and oppressive.

The liberals wonder, if you don’t have health care or food or a place to live — and if some privately held company can fire you at any moment and remove your livelihood — how can you be free? And they wonder why we would let ourselves be oppressed by such worries when we have the means and the government to take care of them. Conservatives, on the other hand, look at liberal ideas with great fear, knowing such guarantees by the government will come with restrictions, and if the government fails to deliver what it promises or does it poorly, there’s nothing to be done about it, because there are no other options. How can you be free if the government controls so much of your life and limits the choices available to you?

There are certainly no absolutes here. Conservatives have some social views that seem like the parent controlling the behavior of the child, and everyone wants full freedom to make their own decisions in certain areas. Plus, we all expect the government to take away some of our worries, like handling criminals and foreign governments intent on doing us harm.  Still, the main argument now seems to be whether the government is to be the parent looking out for the individual needs of all its people or whether we should be left on our own, even if that means some people will end up not being able to take care of themselves. And these two viewpoints are irrevocably opposed.

This isn’t to say they are both equal as valid concepts of freedom. Both are pretty old concepts of freedom, though. The adult freedom is probably the older concept, as most animals live or die on their own merits with no safety net in sight. Still, the child freedom is about as old as when people first had rulers. Any tyranny a king forced upon his people would be justified (when one felt a justification was required) as being necessary to protect his people. That attitude is certainly still common today, as the Chinese government often justifies its oppression by worrying about what chaos would ensue if its citizens/children were left to do as they pleased.

And that’s the big difference in the two philosophies. I doubt very many liberals see themselves as children in need of the government’s guidance. Instead they see themselves as the parents who know how to properly guide everyone else. People don’t pass laws against trans fats because they’re afraid they themselves will eat unhealthily otherwise; those types of laws are for everyone else the liberals feel they need to forcefully parent for their own good. While the adult freedoms are freedoms we want for ourselves, the child freedoms are mainly inflicted on others we imagine need our control for their own betterment.

This is where the progressive European governments and the backwards Islamic  governments share a similarity: they are both concerned with what their citizens may do without the government’s  interference — the Europeans are worried about non-PC behavior, and the Islamic governments are worried about influences from the West and other religions. The end result is both types of government feel they have the right to treat their citizens like children in need of direction.

The United States of America was supposed to be different. Finally citizens recognized their rights to be adults, to take their fates into their own hands. There are so many governments out there that see their citizens as children, but the American example was the one that was supposed to stay out of the way and let people make their own decisions.

Today, we see people protesting and demanding their freedom as adults and others ridiculing them as stupid and worrying what would happen if those people were left to make their own decisions. Of course, early on in American history we had one of the greatest crimes against freedom: slavery. If anything, that should illustrate just how much tyranny can be justified when one group is convinced it’s smarter than another.

So when we’re deciding on the future direction for our country, let’s all be adults and recognize everyone else’s right to be adults, too.

Frank J. Fleming is the author of Punch Your Inner Hippie, coming November 11th, and the science fiction novel Superego, coming later this year, blogs at IMAO.us, is a writer for the creative agency Emergent Order, and wants you to buy his book.
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